Is It True: Popular Baby Products Contain Cancer-Causing Ingredients?

The truth behind a scary headline.

Don’t be too quick to throw out your baby shampoo.

If you are on social media for any amount of time, no doubt you’ve seen this article about popular baby products, such as baby shampoo, containing carcinogenic chemicals.

Sarah Kallies wrote in her brilliantly titled post “Excuse Me While I Lather My Child in This Toxic Death Cream,”

“I am just sick and tired of all the rules. Rules about food. Rules about hygiene. Rules about clothing. Rules about schooling/education. Rules about development. Rules about medication… Rules about the rules.”

Perhaps, like me, her words ring true for you as well.

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So how do we do it? How do we navigate the frightening articles and confirm the terrifying claims about the products we are using on our children?

We’d like to think we can trust companies like Johnson and Johnson that we have been using for generations, but unfortunately, some research is required to substantiate the cancer-causing declaration. And for this one topic at least, I’ve done some digging for you.

Let’s start with the claim that J & J Baby Shampoo includes cancer-causing chemicals.

According to in 2009, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics released the news that Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo “contained the formaldehyde-releasing preservative quaternium-15, as well as the chemical byproduct 1,4-dioxane.” And in 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services added formaldehyde to its list of known human carcinogens.

Due to those findings and pressure from consumers, J & J vowed they would remove the harmful chemicals from their baby products by the end of 2013 and, in 2014, the New York Times reported they had done so.

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So bottom line – this is old news people! Why this has catapulted back into the spotlight, I don’t know, but the problem has been solved.

Just to be safe, I checked my own bottles of Johnson and Johnson baby products, and sure enough, quaternium-15 and 1,4-dioxane are not on the list of unpronounceable chemicals.

Now that we’ve established this is yesterday’s news, let me offer a bit of perspective for the next time something like this happens.

I know the jump from the word Formaldehyde to the stomach-turning smell of dissecting dead frogs in grade school biology is an obvious one, but after reading this article, I saw two important things:

  1. the concentration of harmful chemicals matters, and
  2. our media-saturated culture can incite “chemophobia”

I found out that Formaldehyde is everywhere, from fruits and vegetables to the air we breathe to a byproduct in our own bodily processes. Yet, as the author states,  

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“We’re not all dropping dead from cancer. That’s thanks to one of the most fundamental principles of toxicology: the dose makes the poison. “Unfortunately, all molecules are potentially toxic,” says American University chemist Matthew Hartings. “Toxicity is not just about the molecule but is about both the molecule and its concentration.”

To further illustrate chemophobia, I found several articles about the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide, “an odorless, tasteless chemical that can be deadly if accidentally inhaled.” Just when people were ready to sign a petition to ban such a toxic chemical they were told it’s actually commonly known as H2O – water!

Dartmouth chemistry professor Gordon Gribble defines chemophobia as “an irrational fear of chemicals based on ignorance of the facts.” In this case, we are unaware of the facts because we don’t get the whole picture—like in the H2O hoax—or we don’t understand the concentration levels of a given chemical. 

So it’s important to remember there is usually more to the story than what an inflammatory title can give you. And if the use of chemicals still makes you nervous, the good news is each family has the freedom to choose what they feel is best for them; both natural/organic products and traditional products are available. Just do a little digging and make informed decisions.

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If you are interested in making your own natural products try these baby wipes.

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman

Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.

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